Test Drive: 2012 Scion iQ car test drives scion reviews
2012 Scion iQ. Click image to enlarge

First Drive: 2012 Scion iQ
DBDR: 2012 Scion iQ
Test Drive: 2012 Scion iQ

Manufacturer’s web site
Scion Canada

Review and photo by Chris Chase

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2012 Scion iQ

The names of both of the mass-market microcars available in Canada right now – the Mercedes-Benz-built Smart Fortwo, and this car, the Scion iQ (made by Toyota) – allude to intelligence. Are they trying to tell us that compact is clever?

Canadians already embrace small cars, more so than our neighbourly American friends, but how small is taking it too far? The two-seat Fortwo has thrived here since it was introduced in 2005, and Toyota seems to think the iQ could enjoy similar success – if not more, with the kind of engineering that allowed for the creation of a four-seater that stretches little more than a foot longer than the Fortwo.

Not that the Scion brand as a whole has generated terribly strong sales here since it arrived in late 2010. The number of Scions that leave showrooms is a mere fractions of what Toyota itself moves, despite shared technology (which should be a reassuring thing) and stronger value. One wonders, then, what Scion (and Toyota) aims to prove with a tiny car whose $16,760 MSRP is just $230 less than that for a 2012 Toyota Yaris four-door with similar features.

Test Drive: 2012 Scion iQ car test drives scion reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Scion iQ car test drives scion reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Scion iQ car test drives scion reviews
2012 Scion iQ. Click image to enlarge

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The iQ gets its moves from a 1.3L four-cylinder engine matched with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Ninety-four horsepower and 89 lb-ft of torque wouldn’t be much in most cars, but most cars weigh substantially more than the iQ’s 960 kg curb weight. The unfortunate thing is that even though this little car isn’t terribly slow, the CVT takes a lot of the fun out of pushing the car hard. Unrepentant stabs of the throttle yield lots of noise as the motor’s revs ramp up — and stay up, while the car’s road speed catches up. There’s evidently not much sound insulation between the engine bay and passenger compartment, if the volume of mechanical thrashing that makes it through is an indication.

What’s more impressive is the sound level at highway cruising speed. It ain’t whisper-quiet inside, but neither is it the cacophony I expected in a vehicle that, to some eyes, barely qualifies as a car. I had the keys to a 2012 Chevy Impala for the part of the week I drove the iQ, and the real surprise was that the Impala was not much quieter inside. That’s a big plus for the Scion, and a major negative for the Impala.

With a 24 hp and 21 lb-ft edge over the Smart Fortwo, the iQ should be quicker, but a 210-kg weight penalty takes care of that. It’s lively off the line and peppy enough for city driving, but runs out of breath pretty quickly at highway speeds. It’ll keep up with 120 km/h traffic, but barely, and I wouldn’t entertain the notion of passing semis on two-lane roads.

The CVT may not earn the iQ friends everywhere it goes, but I’d take it over the Fortwo’s single-clutch automated manual transmission, which turns the car into a luau of lurching. Still, the throttle is sensitive, so you’ll need practice to move away from stoplights smoothly; right-pedal responses are better balanced once in motion. The CVT has a sport mode that keeps engine speeds higher and makes the car feel more sprightly, but I hardly used it. A shifter position labelled ‘B’ is more handy; it’s akin to low range in a traditional automatic and makes good use of engine braking to control speeds on steep downgrades. Hammer the gas from a stop and the iQ’s CVT will “step” up through a few set ratios as the car accelerates.